We passed around (yet again) the Colosseum area on the way back to our hotel and could see that preparations were being made for the Via Crucis that would begin at 9:15pm. Once again, we scouted out places for a good view of the Temple of Venus where Francis would preside.
Then we rested up some. At 8pm we headed out around the the great temple of Jupiter side of Forum to the main road leading to the Colosseum which had been closed to traffic. We felt like ancient Romans heading toward the stadium for a big show. The crowd thickened as we got nearer. There were several large screen TVs along the way, running old films of John Paul II and John XXIII.
This was a curious blending of an ancient ritual and Christianity – the solemn Good Friday Way of the Cross being held at the Colosseum, site of gladiator contests, mass executions, animal hunts and other dramas. During the Middle Ages the Colosseum was housing for religious orders and even a Christian shrine.
We arrived early enough to be let into the viewing area. But the closeness of the crowd, and realizing that we would be standing for 2-3 hours, we backed out and headed up the hill. We had done enough walking and climbing for the day.
From a our place on the hill we could see the beauty of the spectacle and hear the rise of excitement as Francis arrived. But we could only see what was actually going on through the large screen TV on the side of the Colosseum.
After awhile we went down the street to the Forum Hotel. I had heard that one could get a good view from the rooftop restaurant, so we went up. The view was not any better than we had on the hill, but we did have a good vegetable soup. When we finished Francis was still praying so we joined the other Romans and pilgrims and watched on one of the large TVs on the street.
One must wonder what exactly is the power and mystery of Christianity, that a small group of scrappy Jews from a far corner of the empire could so completely overtake that empire in only 300 years. Before Peter’s execution, it was clear that the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth had some intrinsic appeal – a change of consciousness and awareness that humanity was now able to grasp. A new way of truth that, in its light, made the darkness of the previous worldview simply wither away.
The crowd was peaceful, calm, respectful. Standing side by side as Francis led us through the passion and death of Jesus, right there in the heart of the Roman Empire. Mind-blowing.
I had to pinch myself that I was here in this place, witnessing this remarkable event.